scrum for marketing

Marketing can be a mad house.  I’ve been working on the front lines in marketing for quite a while, and that’s one thing I’ve learned for sure.   We always have so many projects going on–and so many changing priorities–that it can be hard to know what to do next.

When I first learned about agile marketing and the idea of using Scrum for marketing, I knew it was the right way for us to go. Some people weren’t so sure, and you can check out their side of the story in Scrum for Marketing Sucks!  But, I wanted our whole department to adopt it right away!

Taming Chaos with Scrum for Marketing

Getting everyone to buy in was not as easy as I hoped, because some of my colleagues—who will remain nameless, Marco—are not exactly comfortable with change, if you know what I mean. While they bought into agile marketing in general, Scrum for marketing worried them.   But, there are a few lessons I’ve learned in marketing that you just can’t ignore:

  1. There is always more to do than you have time or resources
  2. No plan survives first contact with the customer
  3. Flexibility can turn a loss into a win, so stay open to new ideas
  4. Evolve, or die!

The principles of agile marketing and specifically Scrum for marketing seemed like the perfect solutions to bring some order to the chaos that was our daily life.   I mean, look at some of these typical situations:

  • After planning a competitive campaign for months, sales decides at the last minute that we’re focusing on the wrong competitor and a different competitor is more important to target.
  • The product team just released a new product, but get this — it’s got three new major features we didn’t even know about and one that we expected isn’t there at all!
  • The exec team just looked at the quarterly projections and decided that we need to increase lead generation right now to meet our numbers, but we don’t get any more budget or people — just ‘add it on.’
  • So, although we a do a great job in marketing IMHO, it seems like we are chasing our tail too much and wasting a lot of cycles.  Scrum for marketing seemed like the perfect way for us to minimize the madness and kill some of the inefficiency, so I convinced our whole group to give it a try.

    The Bumpy Road to Adopting Scrum for Marketing

    Things started off a bit rough.  First, we put together a list of every program or project idea we could come up with.   Not so tough.  But, then we had to prioritize them for our first sprint.  What a mess!  People were certainly not OK with the idea that everything couldn’t be on the list.   “So why not just make the sprint longer and put more on the list?” some people said.  But, that is exactly the point of a limited work period.   If you really want to adopt Scrum for marketing, it’s critical you only include as many items in a sprint as can be realistically completed in the sprint’s timeframe.  Finally, people got it, and we had our task list for our first sprint!  Yeah!

    Well, actually it wasn’t that easy.   Most experts on Scrum for marketing say you must put size estimates on your work. We almost had a fight break out over how to estimate the work for some tasks.  We were pretty solid on estimating work for things like setting up an email campaign or getting t-shirts printed, but we had some issues with a couple of our designers.   At first they flat out refused to commit to an estimate for new designs.  They kept saying you simply can’t rush creativity.  Having at least some sizing for your work is an essential aspect of Scrum for marketing, so we had to do something.   Eventually, we got over this hiccup by breaking the big ‘creativity’ up into smaller ‘creative iterations’.  The designers felt much more comfortable estimating time for a first draft, second draft and so forth with reviews in between.   With our first foray into Scrum for marketing complete, sprint #1 was now underway!

    Jen Demand In Action

    Everything was going great, but then it almost came off the tracks.  We were about halfway through our sprint #1 when the VP of Sales said he needed marketing to immediately produce a retention campaign for major accounts.  Sales had just lost one of our big accounts and he was worried more would follow.  One key discipline of Scrum for marketing is sticking to your sprint priorities. Big changes are supposed to happen outside the sprints in order to protect team productivity during a sprint. So I shared this with the Veep.  His response was not pretty.

    Fortunately, Seemo (our CMO get it? 😉 ) is a big believer in agile marketing in general and Scrum for marketing in particular.  He showed the Veep of Sales what was on our current sprint list.  But more importantly, he highlighted that the sprint would be over in a week and we could bump up the retention campaign to the next sprint, IF AND ONLY IF, he thought it was more important than everything else on our backlog.

    Turns out, we actually pushed the retention campaign to sprint #4, because the Veep of Sales had forgetten all the other stuff he’d put on the backlog!  Lesson learned on my end, Scrum for marketing is as much about managing customer expectations as it is about optimizing team productivity. +1 for SCRUM for marketing!

    Adopting Scrum for Marketing the Agile Way

    The whole Scrum for marketing process is going pretty well, now, but not everyone is a believer yet.   The daily standup meetings don’t seem to be everyone’s favorite, and overall the team is not great at estimating work for each project, yet.  But, I can tell you that early results of adopting SCRUM for marketing have been good.  Its  brought a lot more predictability to our group.  Our campaign flow and lead flow isn’t subject to fits and starts. Even some of my old school teammates (Marco) are starting to see some benefits, even if they won’t publicly admit it. More importantly, everyone outside of marketing has a better handle of what we’re up to and is far less anxious about it (i.e., the marketing complaint meter has definitely dropped by an order of magnitude). Time will tell, but, even with only a few sprints under our belt, I can already see that we are not wasting as much time on fire drills.  Everyone has a better idea of what’s coming, and the team is clearly happier.

    Scrum for marketing rocks!

    Jen Deman

    Jen Deman

    Jen Deman is a demand generation genius. An agile marketing SCRUM master and multi-tasking wizard, Jen is legendary for driving fast-moving, high throughput marketing campaigns. Jen actively captures real-time customer feedback and follows the latest marketing innovations to improve her organization continuously.
    Jen Deman

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    Jen Deman
    Jen Deman

    Jen Deman is a demand generation genius. An agile marketing SCRUM master and multi-tasking wizard, Jen is legendary for driving fast-moving, high throughput marketing campaigns. Jen actively captures real-time customer feedback and follows the latest marketing innovations to improve her organization continuously.

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